Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer became the first candidate to receive the 10 endorsements from MKs needed to run for president Monday, when nearly the entire Labor faction voted to back him.
The only Labor MK among the faction’s 15 who did not vote to back Ben- Eliezer was former party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich, who will apparently support Likud MK Reuven Rivlin.
Ben-Elizer helped Labor leader Isaac Herzog defeat Yacimovich in the Labor race in November.
“Fuad [Ben-Eliezer’s given name] is a fitting candidate and I respect him, but this issue requires that we think it through and consider matters beyond normally accepted political limitations,” Yacimovich said. “The balloting is personal and secret and I promise that after serious consideration, I will vote for the most fitting candidate.”
Herzog praised Ben-Eliezer in the faction meeting, saying that his life story was not known enough to the public.
“He was a child who moved to Israel alone from Iraq, went through absorption struggles, led soldiers in battle courageously, helped Yitzhak Rabin build relations with our Arab neighbors, led Labor and served as defense minister,” Herzog said. “We are proud of you and wish you success.”
Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel said it bothered him that candidates who are not MKs have joined the race and tried to use their lack of political experience to their advantage. He said President Shimon Peres succeeded in the post because of his ability to work within the political system.
In a potential blow to the candidacies of Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman and retired Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On hinted that her faction would back a current or former MK. “We in Meretz have nothing against politicians,” she said.
With Labor backing Ben-Eliezer, Meretz wanting a politician and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid barring his MKs from endorsing any candidate, it has become more likely that Dorner will not receive a single endorsement from any MK.
She said last week that she did not intend to come to the Knesset or call MKs to seek their votes.
Shechtman’s candidacy was harmed Monday when Army Radio took out of context a joke he made about radio stations needing to play “not only Sephardi music.” Shechtman said the radio station had twisted his words and asked for an apology.
But Shas leader Arye Deri called upon Shechtman to remove his candidacy.
“Someone who would say that is not fit to be president,” Deri told the Shas faction. “Someone who wants to unite the people cannot speak that way. Mistakes cannot be made on our backs.”
At the Shas faction meeting, MK Ya’acov Margi revealed that he was endorsing former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who has not announced her candidacy.
Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina Kirschenbaum said she would also endorse Itzik if she decides to run.
“She served well as acting president when she filled in for Moshe Katsav when he suspended himself,” Margi said. “She brought respect to Israel.”